- Could Anyone Move Like Gwen Verdon? 11/5/2005 12:00:00 AM by drednm
The superb Gwen Verdon sings and dances and mugs through this very good adaptation of the smash Broadway musical. Verdon is a cross between Shirley MacLaine and Carol Burnett with a dash of Carol Haney (another Bob Fosse protégé) tossed in. She's a total delight and one of the best dancers EVER! Here she plays Lola, the temptress used by the devil (Ray Walston) to lure Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter) from going back to his wife and breaking his satanic deal in which middle-aged Joe becomes a 22-year-old baseball star and catapults the Washington Senators to 1st place.
Tab Hunter replaces Stephen Douglass from the Broadway show. The rest of the cast recreates their parts for the movie. Verdon, Walston, and Russ Brown (the manager) all won Tony awards. Hunter seems rather stiff and uncomfortable through much of the film (though he looks great) but that's the part of Joe.... Hunter is, however, just terrific in the "Two Lost Souls" number with Verdon. He sings, dances (not too bad) and seems to be having a ball. Verdon is just astounding in this number and laughs all the way thru it. Great song.
Verdon is also a showstopper in "Whatever Lola Wants" and "A Little Brains, a Little Talent." It seems these songs were written for her and no one else can do them the way she does. Verdon, like Ethel Merman or Carold Channing, was a total original. The voice is slightly nasal; the inflection is odd. But it works. And her dancing is totally awesome.
Ray Walston seems to have been typecast in weirdo roles after Damn Yankees and My Favorite Martian. He was a better actor than these roles allowed him to show. Russ Brown is solid as the manager, Jean Stapleton plays the friend (and sings), Rae Allen is Gloria (the reporter), Shannon Bolin is the wife, Jimmie Komack is the goofy ballplayer, Nathaniel Frey is Smokey, Bob Fosse has a cameo in "Who's Got the Pain," and Robert Shafer plays old Joe.
Good songs by the same team that did The Pajama Game. Many of the songs were hits of the later 50s. My only beef is that most of the songs are truncated (I had the Broadway soundtrack) and at least one "I Thought About the Game" is used only as background music. Verdon's "A Little Brains, a Little Talent" is cut in half as is Bolin's "Six Months Out of Every Year." Certainly worth a look to see Broadway superstar Gwen Verdon in her prime and Tab Hunter at his hunkiest.
- Who's Got The Pain?... Certainly not me after watching this! 4/17/2001 12:00:00 AM by Sweet Charity
I bought this movie not knowing what to expect. The only things I knew were that I LOVED Bob Fosse's choreography from films I had seen previously (Sweet Charity, Cabaret) and I loved to hear Gwen Verdon sing (Sweet Charity soundtrack). This movie was in no way, shape or form a waste of my 14 dollars and 99 cents! Ray Walston (reprising his Broadway role) is delightfully evil as the Devil himself (cleverly disgusing himself as a "Mr. Applegate") who has a warped mind and twisted sense of humor, which is evident in his song "The Good Ol' Days." Tab Hunter is superb as Joe Hardy (or "Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo."), the man who sells his soul to become the best long hitter there is, and help his favorite team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant and beating the "damn Yankees." To me, the real star here though, is Gwen Verdon as the seductress, Lola. Not only can this woman act wonderfully, but she has a beautiful singing voice (with a throaty, grainy yet girlish quality) and she is an absolutely FANTASTIC dancer (she's the living embodiment of Fosse's work)! She is the most wonderful dancer/singer/actress ever to grace the Broadway stage and films... it's such a shame they didn't let her play Charity in 1969's Sweet Charity (though Shirley MacLaine did do a good job in the role). She has absolutely become my hero, role model, and favorite actress of all time. Go Gwen! Go Damn Yankees!
- "Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart" 11/15/2007 12:00:00 AM by bkoganbing
Damn Yankees was one of two Broadway shows written by the team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the other being The Pajama Game which got made into films almost immediately upon the cessation of the Broadway run. Damn Yankees ran in the 1955-1957 season for 1019 performances and both Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston continued their roles from Broadway.
However the protagonist Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy part, the middle aged real estate salesman who is a fanatic baseball fan of the lowly Washington Senators, was played by Tab Hunter in the Joe Hardy persona. As in that other Broadway film My Fair Lady it was felt that one of the leads should go to a bona fide movie name in that case Audrey Hepburn in this one Tab Hunter.
In his memoirs Hunter said that he was apprehensive about taking over a musical lead because he admitted he was no singer. But the arrangements were certainly done to accommodate his limited range and he acquits himself well. He certainly does look well in the baseball scenes and even keeps up with Gwen Verdon.
Gwen Verdon like Mitzi Gaynor came along in the Fifties just when Hollywood was slowing down with the making of musicals due to the decline of the studio system. Gwen did such other leads on Broadway as Sweet Charity, New Girl in Town, and Redhead, but only with Damn Yankees was she allowed to go to Hollywood and repeat her stage performance. Gwen like Mitzi was a fabulous dancer and in the Thirties and Forties she would have become acclaimed film name.
Ray Walston got his career break in the part of Mr. Applegate the devil's identity for this film. Back when I was a lad and first saw Damn Yankees in the theater, I was enthralled by Walston's performance and became a fan until the day he died. Walston plays the devil like a spoiled child and there might just be some theological justification for that.
The big hit songs from Damn Yankees was Gwen Verdon's seduction number and dance, Whatever Lola Wants. Few people ever on stage and screen could move like her.
The second and even bigger hit was Heart, sung her by Russ Brown and some of the other actors playing hapless Washington Senator players under their eternally optimistic manager Brown. The song was a big million seller for Eddie Fisher who was at the height of his vocal career then.
Damn Yankees the film was released in 1958. In 1960 the original Washington Senators played their last year in Washington, DC. For the poor fans of the Senators it was a double blow. The team was just beginning to jell as a contender and in 1965 they did in fact in their new home in Minneapolis/St.Paul as the Minnesota Twins did win the American League pennant as the Yankee dynasty crumbled at last.
In their place came another new Washington Senator franchise which continued in the second division ways that Washington knew so well and that fans like Joe Boyd were used to. They played their last season in the capital in 1971 and the capital was without Major League baseball until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved and became the Washington Nationals. I'm afraid we may never see the name Senators attached to a Washington team again. The Texas Rangers have the name copyrighted.
Still the Nationals in the other league are doing their best to hold up the Washington tradition of first in war, first in peace and last in now the National League East. Washington saw three pennants in 1924, 1925, and 1933 and one World Series winner in 1924.
They might just need another Joe Hardy to move the team. Let's hope someone doesn't have to make an arrangement with Mr. Applegate to make it possible to beat those Damn Yankees.
- Still great - half a century later. 5/5/2008 12:00:00 AM by ags123
"Damn Yankees" is old-fashioned entertainment, a bit too talky and literal-minded, but great songs and great dancing never get old. It's worth plodding through the more mundane aspects of this film to relish the classic numbers. "Who's Got The Pain?" has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, but it proves beyond question that Gwen Verdon is the prime interpreter of the Fosse dance style. "Whatever Lola Wants" is actually rather tame in comparison. The highlight is the smoky, seductive duet "Two Lost Souls," where Verdon lets loose with the greatest of ease. The surprise here is Tab Hunter, who holds his own and handles all the Fosse moves just fine. Jean Stapleton's Sister Miller is an early rehearsal for Edith Bunker. I personally prefer the other George Abbott/Stanley Donen collaboration "The Pajama Game," which is livelier. See them both.
- You Gotta Have Heart! 2/5/2006 12:00:00 AM by theowinthrop
This musical, when revived about a decade ago with Jerry Lewis as Applegate, was referred to as a fable for the Eisenhower Years. It is set in a faintly comfortable period (once the McCarthyite Persecutions were finished), because the concept of this musical was the preoccupation of the American public with the national pastime of baseball, and it's singular domination (between 1947 and 1962) by the New York Yankees. Although the Yankees had had other periods of greatness, with Ruth, Gehrig, "Murderers Row" in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they had to share the domination of the World Series with other teams in that period (the Philadelphia Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals, to name three). But the Yankees in this period started with Joe DiMaggio, entered into the period dominated by Mickey Mantel, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Don Larsen, Roger Maris, and presided over by Casey Stengel. They did not always win (one memorable defeat was by their perennial enemy the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955), but they won so often that to non-baseball fans it was monotonous to follow the sports news: you knew what should finally happen.
So the background of this baseball era is important to understand the musical (one of the few times the actual historical background of the time the musical was created becomes that important). Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is a fanatical baseball lover and fan of the woebegone Washington Senators (the saying for many years about the Senators was, "First in war, first in peace, and last in their league."). The team had only one great moment: in 1924 they won the World Series when the team had one of baseball's greatest players on it - Walter Johnson. But it never really was in competition again after that. But Boyd is a fan, and he makes the mistake of being willing to sell his soul to allow the Senators a chance to win the series again. Enter Mr. Applegate (a.k.a. the Devil) played fiendishly well by Ray Walston. He offers Joe a contract that will make Joe the greatest baseball player of all time - and lead to the world series - in return for his soul. Hesitant at first, Joe agrees. He is transformed into Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter), and proceeds to try to join the Senators (with Applegate as his agent).
The Devil can never be trusted in any agreement. Applegate hopes to cause a wave of hope and hysteria by the anti-Yankee baseball public, letting Joe lead his team to the World Series. He plans to pull the rug from underneath the team at the final moment. Unfortunately Joe is a good salesman on his own, and has insisted on an escape clause for himself. Applegate has to accept it for the sake of his own plans. The escape clause is there because Joe loves his wife Meg (Sharon Bolin) and does not want her to be hurt. So Applegate decides to recruit his best female agent, Lola (Gwen Vernon) to vamp Joe and make him forget Meg. But Joe is too faithful, and succeeds in overcoming Lola's "irrisistable" personality (as she sings, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets" - except here). Lola, shaken by the experience, becomes a type of groupie for Joe - and eventually starts a mini-revolt on her own against Applegate.
The score of the show is memorable. Besides the key song "Heart" (sung by the Washington team players), and Lola's "Whatever" number, there is also "Two Lost Souls", "Goodbye Old Girl" and Walston's wonderful "Those were the good old days!" (when he fondly recalls all the tragedies he created in the history of mankind - including the day Jack the Ripper was born). Walston was not nominated for any awards for the movie performance*, but his Applegate is one of his best film performances, with his Gillis in SOUTH PACIFIC. He had played both on Broadway first, so we are lucky to have his film performances here.
*(But won the Tony Award for the role on stage.)
Stanley Donan co-directed this film with George Abbott. Abbott was usually a stage director (he had done the musical on Broadway). There is a moment when it is apparent that he is directing. There is a small dance done by one of the three ball players in the "Heart" number, and the close-up of the player as he smiles shyly and steps forward is out of place in the film - but would have worked on stage.